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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 49 New Delhi November 24, 2018

Kashmir’s Plural Ethos and Communal Harmony

Saturday 24 November 2018

by Abid Ahmad Shah

Peace is the foundation of prosperity among the nation-states of the world and harmony forms the basic foundation of that enterprise. Man is the wonderful creation of God with an inherent sense of metaphysical and worldly belongings. The savage societies of the pre-historic times without any order and hierarchy of social organisation subsequently in the long time-frame paved way for the foundations of nation-states and social organisations with a proper moral and social order.

Although the onslaught of the forces of globalisation after post-modernism have added a new colour to the contours of social dynamics and set in motion a new wave of societal organisations in the world, the case of Kashmir portrays a different tale of ever evolving, unaltered communal harmony. The only narrative that can ensue in an atmosphere of peace and prosperity is that of peaceful coexistence in society in order to avert the crisis that makes inroads within a society from time to time.

Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern State of India with the longest period of amity and brotherhood that has survived the currents of time and remains so in contemporary times. Kashmir, called the land of rishis, saints, seers and sadhus, is known for its communal harmony not only at the local level, but also the world over since time immemorial.

The sort of mysticism that the Sufi and Bhakti movements have lent to the cultural ethos of Kashmir is found nowhere in the world besides Kashmir. The vale of Kashmir is full of various religious faiths that have survived the onslaught of the forces of globalisation with the changing signs of time. Muslims form the majority of the vale along with the religious people among Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians etc.

Over a period of time, communal harmony has permeated the socio-cultural space of the society creating a congenial atmosphere of communitarian responsibility and social bond among the people of Kashmir surpassing the religious lines of thought. This has not only added to the peace horizon of the land, but also created a sense of mutual trust and unified bond among the various communities of the land. In Kashmir, communal harmony is deeprooted in the historical narratives.

The ethos of the Kashmiri culture has time and again withstood the travails and tribu-lations of the time despite the odds and challenges through the changing times. On a minuscule scale, there had been disturbances to the communal harmony of the State following the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.

The exodus of the Hindus in the nineties, ascribed to the circumstances at that point, was a gory chapter in the chronicles of Jammu and Kashmir’s history. However, the call for their return has added a new dimension to the scene. The separatist leadership has time and again been vocal for their return as they are part and parcel of our composite Kashmiri culture.

However, the time has served as the best healer of the same wounds and paved renewed ways for the cherishment of communal harmony. The social harmony vindicates the notions of love and affection among different religions and is a blessing in disguise in the present period.

Status

The State of Jammu and Kashmir reflects the true plural ethos of secular India where people of different communities strive for love and harmony, complementing the lives of each other on a day-to-day basis.

The festivals of one community are celebrated with gaiety and fervour by the other religious community, solidifying the ethos of multicul-turalism and pluralism. Kashmir represents the thread of the confluence of communal harmony and brotherhood. The communal harmony of the State is neither instant nor accidental, but a legacy of the hoary past that has permeated the psyche of the people and created a bond of unity in the socio-cultural milieu of the Valley.

The recent installation by the Christian community of a church bell in a church at Srinagar after a span of 50 years with the support of the Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities is a reminder of communal harmony that is deeprooted in the cultural milieu of the State.

The annual Hindu pilgrimage of the Amar-nath yatra is the biggest and ever glaring example of the amity where old and young, men and women are all hospitably treated with care and concern by the native Muslims and even carried on their shoulders towards the sacred place of cave through the difficult terrains and ways enroute to the cave.

In the town of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag, the legal heir of a deceased Hindu Pandit, namely, Arzan Nath, is a Muslim man, namely, Nissar Ahmad Wagay. Long ago, through the oral history of the people, one has heard of him serving the former during ups and downs of life. Arzan Nath was a government employee with no one to look after. Nissar Ahmad served him through the turbulent times and offered services which even a true descendent could not offer. Nissar used to accompany Arzan Nath through thick and thin. Having personally observed both of them, one can confess that they used to pay the dusk obeisance at the shrine of Hazrat Shahi Hamdan (RA). At the time of Nath’s death, it was none other than Nissar who performed his last rites.

Another Hindu Pandit, Shadi Lal, in the same town is a hope for the hopeless patients who turn up in large numbers at his Ayurvedic shop. The most important trait of the said person is that he takes care of and heals the patients of the whole of South Kashmir. In other words, he has turned out to be a saviour of the community. Come dawn, the people could be seen in large flocks outside his shop. People respect him out of reverence and hold him in great regard. Recently, after suffering from a body disease, the final remedy to my ailment surfaced only after I took the herbal medicine of the Panditji.

Challenges

The biggest obstacle and roadblock for the cherishment of the ideal of communal harmony in India is the fanaticism and extremism of the fringe elements in society. Since all religions preach the message of peace and harmony, there can be no way to justify whatsoever the demeaning attitude of any religious community. The biggest issue of the contemporary times is to contain the fringe elements in society and let the people live in whatever way they are living as the cog in the wheel of the life.

The reasons of such roadblocks in the path of communal harmony are: egoism, lack of vision in education, lack of discipline, lack of cooperation, social disorder, casteism, violence, immorality, lack of faith in true religious values, deficit of good leadership, etc.

Education can be harnessed as a powerful tool against these threats in the path of communal harmony. On his return from South Africa, Gandhiji envisioned unity among different communities of India and did his best for the realisation of the same.

Last Word

In order to realise the goal of communal harmony, peace is the main pre-requisite and a necessary condition. Disharmony creates the forces of disarray and disruption, rendering harmony handicapped ultimately leading to a state of paralysis. To promote the ethics of communal harmony, it is imperative for all the stakeholders in society to play a part and work in sync for the realisation of the same in general.

Youth as the main driving force and an asset of the nation can be the best ambassadors of peace and communal harmony. The only way to achieve that goal is through proper education of the youth across the spectrum of education spanning the whole level of education. This way the youth can learn to make communal harmony as a way of life. Besides, the governments in the State as well as at the Centre have a shared responsibility to further promote communal harmony.

Although, some groundwork has been done in this regard, there are still miles to go before we sleep. The need of the hour is the further promotion of communal harmony in society. The recent publication of ‘Living in Harmony’ books for schoolgoing children by the Oxford University Press (OUP) in India to foster the values of peace and cooperation is a good attempt.

Also, the social media and journalism of mainland India should try to cherish the instances of communitarian love and amity in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of fomenting trouble to earn TRPs and portrayal of the news which creates a wedge in society, the main task of the media should be to point to cases of injustices and display solidarity for removing those. The problem of binary has to be done away with. Today, when the world is envisioning the annihilation of crisis, the crisis in Kashmir is a major concern with each passing day. The gory tales of widows, half-widows and orphans, who have been rendered so after the loss of their dear ones, have permeated the society deeply and created a multidimensional layer of endless pain and sorrow and a state of unabated alienation of the masses.

The question is not of the ‘otherness’ of the other, but, to unite in tandem with the other. Not a single day is devoid of pain, agony and other tragedies. The question is the question of order. The major onus lies on the representatives of the people who represent the masses who have been rendered heart-broken with empty hopes. The answer to all the problems can be found in unity within the broad perspective of the humane approach by which peace can return by renouncing the treacherous path within the domain of the whole society. The government in J&K should understand this and try to overcome the static deficit of governance to unfold a new chapter of good governance. After all, time in consonance with care shall serve the people the best.

The author has done M.Sc. in Bio-Chemistry and B.Ed. from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and also qualified in CTET from CBSE. Earlier he worked as a project trainee at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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